Oto-Oto Izayaka Japonaise may be a large chain restaurant, operated by Ramla Inc., the third-largest chain restaurant in Japan, but the food quality was decent enough for a friend to recommend it to us. To thank him for a year's worth of mentoring, we decided to surprise him here, and as expected, the dinner went very well.
Holding a corner spot in a strip mall, one may think that Oto-Oto is small, but it is actually quite a decent sized restaurant, with a large number of booth tables and stand alone tables. They were able to fit our 20+ attendees comfortably that evening along with regular patrons and a birthday party! Throughout the visit, the employees made sure that we all had enough water, although by the end of the visit, they were slightly less enthusiastic as we spent more than three hours in their restaurant.
It happened to be happy hour while we were waiting for our special guest, and so I ordered a small appetizer: spicy trio cones. These consisted of spicy yellowtail (front), tuna (middle), and salmon (back) filled inside some salad greens and a crisp fried wonton skin, served inside a glass. Although I did like that the wonton skins were lightly fried, the spiciness of all three fishes featured were more than the typical--this made it difficult to taste any flavor of the fish. Only the salmon was able to fully stand up to the spiciness with its full bodied flavor, while tuna and yellowtail were overpowered by the spice.
On a side note, the sushi rolls on the happy hour menu are the same size as those on the regular menu, so if you happen to be at Oto-Oto between happy hour and dinner like I was, order and enjoy the sushi rolls earlier!
Some decided to order ramen for their meal. Everything looked to usual specification-- the typical yellow noodles seen at Santouka and other ramen establishments were featured here-- and the egg looked quite appealing.
Others mostly ordered sets and although most of these items came to the table on time, a few orders took a very long time. A chirashi bowl, surprisingly, was almost one of the last main menu items to arrive at the table! Besides this issue and pricing being higher for dinner service compared to lunch service, most of our party were happy with their selections.
I ordered the Oyakodon (11.95 USD), perhaps something that was overpriced considering it was marked up 4 dollars in comparison to the lunch menu's version. Unlike the lunch set, however, it did come with a chawanmushi, which was velvety and featured quite a chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms, among other ingredients. The oyakodon was prepared in the traditional Japanese style (if cooking show Cooking With Dog can be viewed as a trustworthy source); the dashi, soy, and mirin flavors permeated throughout the dish, while the egg and chicken thigh pieces (with skin attached) were velvety, tender, and smooth.
Another surprise for the visit was that being a birthday surprise party, the staff gave our special guest green tea ice cream, garnished with azuki red bean paste and fresh mochi balls. Along with special gifts, cake, and this ice cream dessert, I think our guest had a very memorable evening!
Oto-Oto's chirashi bowl focused on quality rather than quantity, featuring slightly less seafood than Sushi Imari's version. Each piece of fish was meticulously cut and was especially fresh. In subsitution for quantity, this bowl also featured additional see higher quality ingredients-- the persian cucumbers, salmon roe instead of masago, a small dab of freshly prepared wasabi, a lighter touch with the furikake on the sushi rice.
Similarly with the Cod Fish and Tempura Combination (14.95 USD, we saw attention to detail. The codfish was prepared like most other cod fish in Japanese restaurants-- marinated in miso and mirin--while the tempura was cooked to a light crunch. This combination also came with an additional side dish of hijiki seaweed salad. (this Food Standards Agency article makes me want to reconsider it though)
The high quality offerings (even if it is a chain) of Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise make it a very viable option in the local area for those looking more for a variety of cooked Japanese food options or a happy hour spot. Although most of the options are traditional Japanese, be prepared to see some modern twists on some dishes, and especially the atmosphere!
Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise
929 W. Huntington Dr.
Monrovia, CA 91016
Tel: (626) 359-3000